Dr. Adrian Chastain Weimer
The section about the martyr John Rogers in the New England Primer is preceded by an alphabet, proverbial sayings, creed, and numbers and is followed by short prayers. The Primer is a school book for children (and their parents). Why, then does it include an image of a martyr? English Protestant identity in the seventeenth century was steeped in the stories of John Foxe's Actes and Monuments, more commonly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs (from which this section in the Primer is excerpted). The Book of Martyrs was read alongside the Bible for models of holiness and resistance to religious and political corruption. In early New England, school children would have known that under the Catholic Queen Mary in the 1550s, hundreds of men and women burned at the stake rather than recant their Protestant beliefs. To be an English Protestant meant to resist Catholic tyranny, often associated with the rival empire of Spain (Queen Mary's husband was a Catholic Spanish King). John Rogers represented these English Protestant martyrs who "with wonderful Patience died couragiously for the Gospel of Jesus Christ." As you read John Roger's poem to his children, how does the experience of martyrdom translate into an ethic for everyday life? If the "Whore of Rome" is the Catholic church, how does this document speak to larger issues of the perceived danger of religious toleration? How do you think the poem and image might have influenced the children encountering them?
Essay topic: What are some of the sources of English Protestant identity in the seventeenth century? In what ways were religious and political identity closely intertwined?